Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

You Review: Upstairs at the Party – Linda Grant

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Reviewed by Roel Scheijde

I have always had a love/hate relation with the 1960s. I understand their importance in the breaking down and reinvention of social conventions but, on the other hand, the naivety and self importance of hippies freaks me out.

Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant does an excellent job of reflecting on the 60s and their influence on the rest of the life of the protagonist.

Adele is a young woman who bluffs her way into college and the idealistic micro-universe of a group of people who believe that they can and should change the world purely because they are young and different from their square parents. In this world where everybody fights to defend their ideas (even though they don’t always understand them), two people really stand out: Evie and Stevie, an androgynous couple that might be lovers or twins.

At first Adele is intimidated by them but as she gets to know them better she becomes very intrigued by Evie. But not all is as it seems, people are different from what they appear and the ideas they believe in might not really relate to the real world. The world Adele and her friends have created breaks down at her birthday party.

The strength of the book lays in two things.  Firstly, the self-reflection of Adele on the 60s. Were they really as important as people believed at the time and was everybody honest in their beliefs? Especially her portrait of the beginning of modern feminism is a joy to read. And secondly the characters have a complexity that keeps surprising you.  Nobody is who they seem at first glance and quite a few characters go through several transformations. It shows their strengths and weaknesses in a way that is both tragically brutal and tender.

I guess the only real problem I had was the way that the 70s and 80s are rushed but that is a small problem compared to the rest of the novel and how it looks back on somebody’s youth in a non-nostalgic and unapologetically honest way.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available of Upstairs at the Party, as well as for her most of her earlier novels: We Had It So Good, The Clothes on Their Backs, Still Here, When I Lived in Modern Times.

You Review: Iron & Rust – Harry Sidebottom

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Reviewed by Henk van Doorn

The Roman times depicted in Iron & Rust seem a long way from the Pax Romana that we were taught about in schools. This Rome is dark, unsafe and bloody. The people in it are evil, corrupt, deceitful, treacherous, murderous and cruel, intimidating bullies. Because those in power have – like dictators – put themselves above the law and gone unchecked by anyone. Well… not anyone. Life expectancy for emperors and others in power is short. Especially if you are sitting on the throne of the Caesars. Better make no dinner reservations. It is a dark, grim, deceptive world in which you cannot trust anyone or you might meet a swift and bloody end. Paranoia rules and deceit is rife.

At first I was disgusted by what seemed like an unashamed glorification of violence, deceit, depravity of decency and humanity, like a written version of a cheap slasher movie. But maybe Harry Sidebottom is using his sometimes very graphic language to depict what can happen if people in power go unchecked and have nobody to answer to. That power corrupts, and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, leading to cruelty, deceit, plotting, conniving, broken promises, treachery, bloodlust, misuse of power, intimidation, sorrow, looting, blood and gore. Lots of it. Definitely not humanity’s finest achievements. Actions that rightly should make you feel disgusted.

It makes you appreciate the relative safety of our modern lives. Because we are more aware, we think more about what is fair and what is not. We have fought for powers to be curtailed, fought for laws that have given us all unalienable rights. Laws and regulations that people nowadays still check and fight for. Our current law system and society might not be perfect, but it is a whole lot better than what it was in Roman times. We should think and try to create our own tomorrow. By being aware and raising our voices. By talking to others. Building by reasoning and negotiating. Trusting but verifying. By trying to reach an understanding and consensus with others instead of just being negative and trying to force our will onto others. Doesn’t every sane and reasonable person wants to live in peace and prosper? It certainly makes life a lot easier if you don’t have to live your life as if everyone is out there to get you. Because we have laws to protect us against people like that.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available for Iron & Rust.  There are also ebooks available for his previous series, Warrior of Rome (Fire in the East, King of Kings, Lion of the Sun, Caspian Gates, The Wolves of the North and The Amber Road) and Ancient History: A Very Short Introduction.

You Review: The Bees – Laline Paull

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Reviewed by Oona Juutinen

Most dystopian novels nowadays seem to be variations of the same few plots and patterns, all with similar protagonists and generally not much to get excited about. Amongst this bunch of The Hunger Games copies, Laline Paull’s book The Bees is like a breath of fresh air. Original to boot, I can honestly say I have never before read something like it: a novel from the point of view of a honey bee.

Flora 717 is born a sanitation worker, the lowest of the low in her hive. The hive is highly organized and the mantra of the bees is to accept, obey, and serve. But there is something different about Flora 717. Unlike her kind usually, she is able to speak, and she appears to have been born with a rebellious streak. Flora ends up challenging the established order of the hive, where each bee has her own place, where anything and everything is supposed to be sacrificed for the wellbeing of the hive – and where only the queen is allowed to breed. Before long Flora 717, like all other dystopian heroines, will find out that in a society that relies on sameness and order, being different can be extremely dangerous.

While The Bees is probably not a book that will stay with me for years (unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, for example, to which the back cover text somewhat ambitiously compares the book), it was definitely a fun and refreshing read. Having read the book, you will never again look at bees the same way you did before.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available for The Bees, as well as for the other books compared to it, The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale.

You Review: Munich Airport – Greg Baxter

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Reviewed by Anouschka van Leeuwen

It took me a while to start writing this review after I had finished Munich Airport. That is because the book’s heavy subject and its eerie atmosphere needed some time to sink in.

The book starts when the main male character (whose name is never disclosed), his father, and an official from the American embassy are waiting at Munich Airport to board their plane. We soon discover the object of their travels: they have come to Berlin to collect the body of the main character’s sister Miriam, who died of starvation, apparently of her free will.

From that point on, the story never moves forward, only backwards. The book mostly consists of memories of the main character’s youth and of the three weeks leading up to the present, when he and his father stayed in Berlin waiting for Miriam’s body to be released by the authorities. By spending time in Berlin, where Miriam lived the last years of her life, her brother tries to find out what led to her illness and ultimately her death. He speaks to the people that knew her, spends time among her stuff, and joins his father for a tour of the vicinity. It soon becomes apparent that there is much left unsaid between not only the two of them but also between them and Miriam. These issues are dealt with in a serious manner, although the book also contains some humorous, almost cynical dialogues between father and son.

I found that the style and structure of the book suited the overall themes very well. In between tales of the past, the reader is taken back to the present at the airport, thereby maintaining the sense of waiting, of urgency, of impending bad luck. Also, the fact that Miriam died of starvation leads the male character to obsessively focus on his own eating pattern. Indeed, when you start paying attention to it there is an awful lot of eating and drinking in the book. I thought that this focus on food conveyed the overall ‘hunger’ of the characters to obtain love and happiness without being too obvious about it.

The author/main character describes Munich Airport as ‘blue’, in a quite literal sense that the interior and the lighting give off a blue hue. The same characterization can be used in a metaphorical sense for the feeling that is generated by the book as a whole. The story is a raw and compelling report of troublesome family ties, complicated relationships, and getting to grips with feelings of guilt. It left me speechless for a while – but I’m sure that in due course, I will look at some of Greg Baxter’s other work.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Ebook available for Munich Airport, as well as for his earlier books The Apartment and A Preparation for Death.

You Review: We Are Called To Rise – Laura McBride

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Reviewed by Kayleigh Goudsmit

In We Are Called to Rise, Laura McBride tells us about ‘when the worst in life brings out the best in us’. The story is told from four perspectives, each dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder in their own way – either because they experience it, they see a family member struggling with it, or tragedy happens to them because of it.

From the first page, I loved the book. The writing is very good and the voices are genuine. One of the protagonists is the third-grader Bakshim. My biggest pet peeve is that writers often give the children in their novels a voice beyond their years, but McBride gets it just right with Bakshim.

It is easy to empathize with the characters, and because of this it took me a while to finish the book. Sometimes the situation described was so oppressive that I felt I had to put away the book and take a break from it. The thought of not finishing did cross my mind, but in the end I’m glad I read on. I loved this book, even if it made me feel sad, because the writer shows that while not everything will end well, life may end up giving you back your belief in the human race.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

Kayleigh can also be found on Twitter: @KayleighGoudsmt.